“So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” -Romans 14:12-13
“________?! Is that you?! What are YOU doing in the gym?”
This was the remark made to me as I set foot inside the gym in a law enforcement training center about 11 years ago. At that time, based on my physical fitness standards and body fat percentage, I was defined as “obese.” One of the instructors pulled me aside and reprimanded me for being the youngest… yet most out of shape person in my class. This was not the first time I was told my health issues were due to being “out of shape.” In college, I went to urgent care on campus because I couldn’t breathe and was sweating from walking to class. The nurse’s conclusion: “you need to exercise.” Seriously?! I think I’m dying. There is clearly some clinical condition for this, right?
While not the most gentle approach, I needed this tough love. I had been handled with “kid gloves” in middle school. I couldn’t run or keep up with the other kids, so the solution was an inhaler… and walking instead of running. I labeled myself as a victim and never really exercised after that. I just believed that I wasn’t designed for it.
So now, here I was, realizing that my life… and someone else’s life… may actually depend on me not collapsing of a heart attack by running a mile. It struck something deep within me. It wasn’t just about me anymore. I didn’t quite grasp the concept of the Holy Spirit and my body being God’s temple at that point, but God knew how to speak to me to save my life.
So, I asked for help, and I was blessed by classmates who wouldn’t let me quit. They showed my how. Eventually I lost over 30 pounds… and 11 years later, I forgot how that moment felt when I first walked into the gym. But then I took on a client, struggling with obesity, who was terrified to exercise in front of people. As I tried to convince her that other people’s opinions did not matter, she made it through the workout… but then she broke into tears and shared the mean things people had said about her body. I realized there was an emotional and spiritual aspect to her struggle from scars and painful words.
In case you haven’t heard about this new term, “Body Shaming” is making negative statements about your own body, or someone else’s body to their face or behind their back. Essentially, it can manifest into a form of bullying. The Bible would most likely define it as judgement.
So, why do we do it? I think there can be an underlying insecurity or spirit of comparison involved… otherwise… we are just plain mean. I overheard some highschool boys, walking past a gym as they peered inside. One of them made a nasty comment about people “not even really exercising.” Some gym goers may look at an overweight person and judge them, thinking they are “better” somehow.
First of all, we all struggle. This person’s struggle is outward, for everyone to see. Your struggle just may be in secret. Being in shape does not make you a better person. Instead, be grateful. Secondly, who are you to judge? The Bible specifically advises us not to judge. God is the only judge.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” -Matthew 7:1
Furthermore, why would you place an obstacle in the way of a brother or sister? How is your comment helpful? Do you think they don’t realize they are overweight? Maybe they don’t own a mirror, so you’re doing them a favor to remind them?! How about you encourage them instead? Compliment a body part you can tell they are working on. Acknowledge when you notice they are losing weight. Admire the strength and discipline they have for coming to a place where they know people may judge them, yet they do it anyway. They are motivated for change and deserve to be proud and celebrated!
Gym judgement goes beyond obesity. Do you compare yourself to others at the gym? Are you constantly trying to lift more than the guy on the next bench? Run faster than the girl on the treadmill behind you? Get better biceps that the person in front of you? I implore you: Don’t do it. Comparison is the quickest stealer of joy. As soon as you think you’re “better” than that guy, someone bigger, buffer, faster, and more beautiful is going to come knock you off your pedestal. Embrace your journey. Be proud of your progress. Your health is not about anyone else.
Lastly, do you degrade your own body? Do you think it glorifies God when you call His creation fat or ugly? Be kind to yourself. Be motivated, but love yourself and give yourself some grace. Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your best friend!
I hope this gives you some food for thought the next time you see “that guy” at the gym. Instead of judging them or yourself, send a little love their way. I guarantee you will leave feeling a whole lot better. Go bless someone at the gym today. God is smiling down on you:)
Here’s to your health!